By Emma Fiala
On Friday, lawmakers in Mexico City gave the green light to decriminalizing sex work in the capital city. Officials are hopeful the change will help curb a sex trafficking epidemic to which thousands of Mexican women and children have become victim. The UN estimated that there were 236,930 sex workers in Mexico in 2016 alone.
Lawmakers voted 38-0 in favor of a bill that will remove one line from a civic culture law indicating sex workers and their clients can be fined or arrested if neighbors file a complaint. Eight members of congress abstained from the vote.
While sex work is legal in Mexico, each of the country’s 31 different states have different—and occasionally unclear—laws and policies. Unfortunately, the disconnect in regulation leaves space for exploitation and trafficking.
According to the U.S. State Department, Mexican women and children are most at risk in a country that is a source, transit hub and destination for both adults and children forced into various forms of human trafficking, including sex trafficking and forced labor.
Temistocles Villanueva, a representative with the Morena party, said,
It’s a first step that has to lead to regulation of sex work, to fight human trafficking and strengthen the rights of sex workers. Exercising sexuality in our country is still a taboo topic that few of us dare to talk about.
“Exercising sexuality in our country is still a taboo topic that few of us dare to talk about,” Villanueva added.
According to the Guardian:
Mexico is listed as a tier two nation in the US’s Trafficking in Persons Report, meaning it does not meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking but it is making significant efforts to do so.
While the modification to the existing law is a welcome change to those in the know, not everyone thinks it goes quite far enough. Elvira Madrid, founder of Brigada Callejera—a sex workers rights group—said sex workers need a legal framework that offers them protection.
Eduardo Santillan, a Mexico City congressman who is also with the Morena party, said that strengthening anti-trafficking public policy should come next. “We think that the big challenge of this congress will be making both of these fundamental principles compatible,” Santillan said.
Still others are concerned that the decriminalization of sex work will only serve to provide cover for human traffickers. Supporters of decriminalization, however, maintain that criminalizing the career sends it deeper underground, thus sending the problems underground as well. Criminalization also opens the doors for abuse by organized crime and police.
The bill approved on Friday came after a previous version was criticized by both sex worker and human rights groups.
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